After upsets in Los Angeles and Orlando, a heartbreaking foul call for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks in Boston, and an historic first postseason win for the Memphis Grizzlies, one constant emerged from the NBA playoffs’ opening weekend: The Chicago Bulls continued to win with Derrick Rose leading the way. The Bulls have been winning with a quiet and almost dull regularity since the all-star break, while the rise of the Miami Heat superfriends squad, Shaquille O’Neal’s Sisyphean right calf, and daily updates on the emotional stability of New York City residents in response to the Carmelo trade have dominated Eastern Conference headlines. Only Derrick Rose’s nightly MVP campaign has allowed the Bulls to make noise, despite the Bulls’ league-best record.
Facing the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, Rose’s campaign continued, although Indiana—only one of only three teams to beat the Bulls since February—vowed to make it interesting. The Pacers lead the Bulls for all but the game’s 48th minute, when D-Rose and the Bulls ended the game with a 16-1 run to pull off the win. Rose’s 39 points say far less about his performance on Saturday than his 3 blocks. Those team-leading blocks show how much Rose played everyman, while Carlos Boozer came up missing in action, the Bulls’ bench floundered, and even first-year coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to catch some playoff jitters. Sure, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng showed flashes, and Kyle Korver made numerous clutch three-pointers despite remaining a liability on defense. Rose did it all though, from defense, to consistently finding the cutter, to multiple highlight reel arachnoid moves under the basket.
Questions remain going forward, for the Bulls, after barely pulling off the win on Saturday. It is difficult for a player to dominate from the point guard position in the post-up-dominated playoffs, and Boozer needs to make the trip down from Alaska for the next game. The Bulls’ bench needs to give Rose a spell without floundering. Plus, there is the problem of Indiana looking tougher than expected. Danny Granger remains one of the most brilliant and dynamic players in the league, Daren Collison causes legitimate problems for Rose, and Roy Hibbert continues his transformation from Frankenstein stiff to fluid bigman. And then there is Tyler Hansborough, who endured a domeshot from the ageless elbows of Kurt Thomas, went down for the count, and then reentered the game with renewed tenacity, proving that you can’t concuss a player who already plays concussed. The Pacers provide a handful for these Bulls, who are entering uncharted playoff waters as potential finals favorites for the first time in the post-MJ era. Luckily on Saturday, Rahm Emanuel’s courtside presence provided some extra intimidation, but next time the Bulls can’t merely rely on Rahm to show the world what Chicago is all about.